Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene
Do you remember the 1950’s game show “To Tell the Truth” ? After a series of questions and answers addressed to the three contestants all claiming to be the same person, the panelists had to make a choice as to which contestant is actually the person in question. At the end, the TV host would say, “Would the real Jane Doe or John Smith please stand up.” The truth would then be revealed.
On the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, we might want to begin our reflection with the request , “Would the real Mary Magdalene please stand up !” I think back on all of the various stories I heard of Mary while I was growing up. She was a great sinner. She was a repentant prostitute. She was possessed by seven devils. She was a follower of Jesus in His ministry. She was a disciple. She was totally loyal, even to the Cross and burial of the Lord. She was the first to receive the revelation of the resurrection. All of these and more were said of Mary Magdalene. Will the real Mary please stand up ?
We actually know very little of Mary from the scriptures. She is often confused with Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus or with the woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and dried them with her hair. Medieval Popes began the tradition that Mary was a great sinner who repented but the scriptures do not substantiate this interpretation of her. The scriptures for her feast day help to clarify just who Mary was. The beautiful selection from the Song of Songs speaks of the strong universal search by the human heart motivated by a deep longing to find “the one whom I love” . The search goes on until the beloved is found and the bond of mutual love is created . We are able to see this very same search in the gospel references to Mary. She comes to know the Lord and His preaching and discovers her love of God becomes focused in the life giving words of Jesus. She accompanies Him in his preaching tours to listen, to deepen her love for Him and the Father, to influence others in a positive way, and to help care for Him along the way. Having found her beloved, Mary remains the faithful disciple through His arrest, torture, crucifixion, death and burial. She stands with Him under His cross. She helps to prepare His body for burial. She mourns with the Blessed Mother the death of “one whom she loved”.
Today’s gospel brings us to the next moment in her life – the moment when her beloved is restored to her. It is the Easter account of John’s gospel. Mary is the FIRST to receive the revelation “He is Risen.” She is overjoyed and rushes to embrace His feet. Jesus stops her not because she was “a sinful woman” with a past, but because she had followed Jesus in life and now Jesus was preparing her to follow Him in faith. At that moment, Mary’s faith becomes firm and she becomes the Apostle to the Apostles, the first to hear the Good News and the FIRST sent by the Lord to announce the Good News to the other apostles.
Today’s scriptures invite us to understand Mary Magdalene as a woman of great love, intense desire to stand by the Lord, and a disciple of unwavering loyalty, dedication and faith..
I believe the real Mary Magdalene just stood up!!!
Fr. Richard Burke, CP, is a member of St. Paul of the Cross Province. He lives at St. Ann’s Monastery in Scranton, Pennsylvania.